A Blessing and A Curse, No. 2: Mothering with Type 1 Diabetes

In this second installment of the interview series, it is my pleasure to welcome Cheryl, who I met on Facebook through our mutual friend Justine of Full Belly Sisters. Though I initially intended to focus on physical disabilities, I decided to expand my scope after learning that Cheryl has Type 1 Diabetes. Managing a medical condition in the midst of the busy work of parenting is a significant challenge, and maybe more so than a physical disability! 
Cheryl, with her husband Brandon and sons, Brett, Ian and yet-to-be-born Troy
I am a 33 year old wife to my husband Brandon and mom of three wonderful boys- Brett (6), Ian (3) and Troy (6 weeks). We live in Valencia, California which is about 40 miles north of Los Angeles.  Being a full-time mom is my favorite job, but I do share it with my full-time working job at Medtronic Diabetes.  Medtronic is the manufacturer of the insulin pump (more to come on that later). I am a training and education specialist which means I work to develop programs that educate physicians on the insulin pump and continuous glucose monitoring.  When I am not at the office,  I am often at a ballfield, park, or activity with my rambunctious boys.  However, I do love to sneak away for a mani/pedi and a glass of wine with my fabulous girlfriends or steal a moment with my DVR to watch bad reality tv.

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

For people without diabetes, their bodies regulate blood sugar through the work of insulin, which is a hormone secreted from the pancreas.  For people living with Type 1 Diabetes our bodies no longer produce insulin and we must take it by injection, or in my case, via insulin pump.

On Pregnancy and Managing Type 1 Diabetes

I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when I was five years old and while my diabetes hasn’t caused me any physical limitations, (although diabetes can offer these for others) there is a unique dynamic to parenting with a medical condition.  This starts from the moment I find out I am pregnant.  It is imperative that I stay in perfect condition while pregnant to ensure that my baby develops correctly and has a healthy environment in which to dwell.  This is where the stress begins- which definitely feels funny to say because we moms know that is the tip of the iceberg and you will spend the rest of your life worrying about them- so I will say “added” stress.  I wear an insulin pump and have since I was 21.  I was hesitant to go on a pump and the only thing that really sealed it for me was being told that if I ever wanted to have babies I should definitely be on one, so now it was time to put that to the test.  I also wear a continuous glucose sensor as well and together these two devices make managing diabetes through pregnancy easier.  Wearing a pump and sensor does mean that I have two “sites” on my body; one is where my pump is infusing insulin into my body throughout the day and another where the sensor is detecting my glucose and sending that data over to the pump every five minutes.  My pump has a 23 inch thin tubing that connects it to my body. While I would never describe either as a “physical” disability because the control that I have with these two devices is amazing, there is a physical component to wearing a medical device externally.  

Balancing Parenting and Self-Care

The other side to all of this is my diet and exercise.  I do have to watch what I eat normally, but wearing a pump makes this much easier.  However when I am pregnant, I need to be extra careful, making sure to keep my diet in check so that my blood sugars remain in perfect control.
Whew! So now, I have had 3 successful pregnancies and delivered 3 healthy boys.  And this fortune is not lost on me because not so long ago it was difficult for women with Type 1 Diabetes to have children, but my team of doctors who see me CONSTANTLY have helped make these boys possible.  Being a mom means your kids come first and a big struggle is that they often do which means “where does mom fit in?”  Having diabetes means I have to check my blood sugars, eat when I need to, and I do at times have potentially scary low blood sugars.  But in the world of mommyhood sometimes these things are missed or I have to tell my boys that I need to take a break or eat a snack when perhaps I have just told them “nothing else till dinner.”  As a matter of fact it happened today, I made mac and cheese for my three year old and then needed to nurse my newborn.  Lo and behold, I forgot to eat and we ran errands.  I came home starving and ate (read: inhaled) some of the leftover mac and cheese.  Then Troy needed to be fed.  Long story short, I forgot to give myself the insulin I needed for the food I ate and upon dinner time I discovered that my blood sugars were way too high.  
Confronting the Risks


There are two tough parts to having diabetes. One is that in mothering, one tends to put themselves last and with diabetes, you really have to put yourself first.  What good are you as a mom if you are not healthy? There are several long term complications of diabetes- blindness, renal failure, loss of circulation- and those are scary things.  If you don’t manage your diabetes well, these are a very real reality.  
Another is that diabetes is on the rise- both Type 1 and Type 2.  Type 1 is described as autoimmune, usually called Juvenile Diabetes because most develop it before the age of 25.  This makes up 10% of the population of people with diabetes.  Type 2, or adult onset, makes up the other 90% and is the type more people are familiar with.  Type 2 has a genetic component but it also triggered by poor diet and not maintaining a healthy weight.  It’s very common for my kids to hear that someone’s grandparent died of diabetes, or that they had to have a limb amputated as a result of diabetes, and this can be scary for them.  They also ask if they will get diabetes (my children have a less than 5% chance of developing diabetes).  It’s a tough thing to teach young kids about when there is a lot of negative media coverage around diabetes.

Understanding and Empathy

A huge positive is how normal they think it is!  I love that they know about my pump and understand why I wear it.  I feel like that makes them more understanding of other people’s medical conditions.  I use it as a teaching tool all the time.  When they ask about someone’s wheelchair for example, I will tell them “just like mommy has her pump, they need their wheelchair to make them feel better.”  They usually say “oh, ok” and it seems to really make sense to them.  Recently in my sons’ youth group one of the mothers had a daughter diagnosed with Type 1 and she had come to talk to me.  She was understandably upset and my son saw her start to cry.  He came up and I explained the situation. With the most genuine smile he said “it’s ok, we have diabetes in our family and my mommy wears her pump and is super healthy!”  It was so sweet and I loved that he acknowledged the positives in it.  
The new big brothers!

The Burden of Diabetes and Stealing Cookies


I do find that as my sons get older I get concerned from time to time about them developing diabetes.  When they are sick or acting funny,  I have been known to take out my glucometer and check their blood sugars.  My six year old now cries when he is sick because I am likely to poke him.  I also know as they get older I will have to teach them further about the disease and more of the scarier parts that could, even though I work hard to prevent them, happen to me.  I know they will learn more about it, or hear negative, ignorant comments such as “your mom has diabetes because she is fat,” or something to that extent.  While I have never had a low enough glucose  that I have not been able to treat it, it can happen.  I know of so many stories of kids having to call 911 for their parents with hypoglycemia and that is such an awful thought.  No parent wants to be a burden on their child, but having a medical condition makes me worry about that even more.
Right now the biggest struggle is hiding in the pantry, sneaking something sweet because my blood sugars are low and being caught.  Then comes the “No fair, why do you get a cookie and not me?!”  Now my blood sugars are low AND I am battling with a six year old over the “fairness” of a cookie!  
Thank you to Cheryl for her participation.  I learned so much about Type 1 Diabetes from this interview. If you’d like to know more about Type 1 and Type 1 Diabetes, here is some more information from the American Diabetes Association.  
For the first installment in this series, in which I interviewed my friend Candace about being a deaf mother, go here: http://realnani.blogspot.com/2014/05/a-blessing-and-curse-no-1.html
If you’d like to be interviewed for this series, just leave your contact info in the comments. Thanks! 


10 thoughts on “A Blessing and A Curse, No. 2: Mothering with Type 1 Diabetes”

  1. Thanks for sharing Cheryl and Nancy! Although I don't have type 1 diabetes, I still have the same fear of my son developing diabetes. Type 1 & 2 diabetes run in my family. Prior to becoming pregnant, I was taking oral medication daily for years for insulin resistance despite watching my diet closely and regularly excercising 4-5 times a week. I was in the best shape of my life prior to pregnancy although my pancreas overproduced insulin. After a few weeks of becoming pregnant, I began to inject insulin due to gestational diabetes, which doesn't usually show up until 2nd trimester. My doctor instructed me to take too much for my first injection so my husband witnessed me have a hypoglycemic episode. I grew up giving my aunt insulin injections and knew the symptoms of hypoglycemia but he had no clue. I was lucky he was in the other room at the time. Since delivering my healthy son, I'm no longer pre-diabetic and don't need medication although I still have some baby weight to lose and I exercise less often. Odd how I'm healthier now than before I was pregnant! My main concern now is that my son doesn't have to experience diabetes himself. The daycare he will start attending in the fall gave me their breakfast and lunch menu. I'm already stressing about it because it's full of carbs and sugar. I can't/won't eat food on that menu. I personally believe a diabetic diet is just a common sense healthy diet for all. Unfortunately, America is not accustomed to lower carbs and sugar and more whole grains. Needless to say, I'll be stressing about what he consumes until he is responsible for making his own food and drink choices.

  2. What a nerve-wracking experience, Leslie! I agree that we could all benefit from a diabetic diet. Thanks for sharing your experience–it's eye-opening for those of us who do not have experience with diabetes.

  3. I honestly had no idea that it was that much harder for women with Type 1 Diabetes to have children. I'm glad you have your boys! I also agree that when you yourself have a disability it's easier for your kids to accept others the way they are. I never had a problem with my kids gawking or anything because they were always used to being around people with various capabilities.

  4. Thanks for sharing. I have so much admiration for the way that people with all kinds of disabilities and chronic illnesses live their lives without complaining. You deal with more than most, and I have so much respect for that. Sharing information always helps us get wiser, be more empathetic, and put our own struggles in perspective!

  5. One of my close friends has had Type 1 for most of her life and I remember how much thought they put into having kids – per, during and after. She has two healthy kids now!

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